Why Accountability Is Key in Fundraising
For years, I really didn’t like it when someone would follow up and ask me, “Hey, did you do that thing you said you were gonna do?” But, while I didn’t like it, I began to appreciate it because having people in my life to hold me accountable has made me successful at my work.
Ask Richard, he’ll tell you.
It’s something very simple, yet very little of it is practiced in our industry. A real system for accountability would mean that a manager meets with frontline fundraising staff very regularly, like every week.
Richard and I have found in almost two decades of doing this work that meeting every week is the key to a fundraiser’s success. Essentially, the manager asks the fundraiser, “Did you do what you said you were going to do?”
Simple, yet powerful because the fundraiser has made a promise about how they were going to carry out their strategic plan that week, and they know they will be asked how they executed it. And, if they didn’t, they will have to answer why.
That might sound harsh, or as if the boss is micromanaging, but that’s not the reality. In those weekly meetings, the manager is meeting with a fundraiser who they want to succeed. The manager is a cheerleader, providing solid strategy advice and a listening ear.
When a fundraiser has someone like that meeting with them every week, they look forward to that weekly meeting. Why? Because we all need that encouragement, advice, empathy and,yes, accountability to be our best.
A few years ago, the famous Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels was asked, “Why is it that actors have such success on your show but have trouble in the outside world when they leave the show?” His answer surprised the interviewer.
He said, “The reason our actors are successful here is that we provide a structure – we hold our actors accountable to rehearse and rehearse until they get it right. I’ve found that creative people flourish when you provide boundaries, and they are held accountable. Unfortunately, many actors fizzle out quickly when they leave here because they no longer have those boundaries that actually set them free.”
We know without a shadow of a doubt that a frontline fundraiser will be successful if they have the proper structure and accountability. And, in many cases, the fundraisers who fight the whole accountability thing at first but quickly realize it has some merit are the ones who become the most successful.
If you’re a manager, this is no small thing. Your success depends on your ability to hold your staff accountable to their goals and actions in a caring, kind and nurturing way. If you’re a frontline fundraiser, allowing yourself to be held accountable and working within a structure will give you immense freedom and creativity to develop meaningful relationships with your donors.
The more accountability you build into your mid-level, major and planned giving programs, the longer you will remain in your position, the deeper your relationship will become with your donors and the more net revenue there will be to fund your important mission.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.